for Veterans and the Public
Getting Tested - Hepatitis C for Patients
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a disease that affects your liver. It is caused by a virus called the hepatitis C virus, or HCV for short. Approximately 2.4 million people in the United States are thought to have hepatitis C.
The symptoms of hepatitis C infection are often very mild. Most people can carry the virus for years without any symptoms. The most common symptoms are vague abdominal discomfort, fatigue, and joint pains. Patients with hepatitis C can develop complications such as cirrhosis and liver cancer without any warning symptoms.
Finally, because it stays in your body, you can give hepatitis C to someone else.
Medications can cure hepatitis C in most people, so early diagnosis and treatment is recommended to prevent progression to cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.
Should I get tested?
All adults age 18-79 should be tested for hepatitis C. Talk to your VA provider about risk factors that may require more regular screening.
The hepatitis C test is available for all Veterans enrolled in VA health care. See the printable HCV testing handout for information about getting tested at a VA facility (locate a VA health care facility near you.)
What Tests Do I Need?
Hepatitis C testing involves a single blood test that looks for the hepatitis C antibody. If this test is positive, the sample is tested to see if there is any live virus. If there is live virus, then hepatitis C infection is confirmed.
If this test is positive, you have chronic hepatitis C and should talk to your provider about treatment. Treatments for hepatitis C can cure most people in 8 weeks.
If you test negative, you are at risk of contracting hepatitis C. Protect yourself by reducing your risks of getting hepatitis C:
- Don't inject or snort illicit drugs. If you do, talk with your provider about trying to stop. If you can't stop, never share your syringes, needles or drug paraphernalia with anyone else. Find resources for clean equipment.
- Always practice safer sex. Use a latex barrier, such as a condom every time you have sex. Using condoms also reduces your chances of getting sexually transmitted diseases.
- Do not use anyone else's razor, toothbrush, or other personal care items.
How long does it take to test positive?
If you've been exposed to hepatitis C, it takes about 1-2 weeks for viral particles (called HCV RNA) to be found. Liver function tests also tend to rise during this timeframe. Hepatitis C antibodies appear after RNA is detectable and can take 3-12 weeks to appear.
Getting Tested: Resources
Definitions of terms commonly used with viral hepatitis and related conditions.
- American Liver Foundation
A national nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention, treatment, and cure of hepatitis and other liver diseases through research, education, and advocacy. Website features a database directory of hepatitis clinical trials, facts sheets, and links to additional resources.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Hepatitis C
Information on hepatitis C from the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases. Site features related CDC guidelines and recommendations as well as training materials, fact sheets, and key CDC hepatitis documents.
- NATAP: Hepatitis
Recognizing that coinfection with viral hepatitis among people with HIV is a problem, the National AIDS Treatment Advocacy Project (NATAP) developed an extensive amount of information on hepatitis, both in the context of HIV coinfection and as a separate illness.